FIRST PLATINUM RECORD ALBUM? Ask the question that makes up the title of this article on Google and you will find more than 7,000,000 entries (most of them offering something for sale). The answer you will invariably encounter will be the Eagles/Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 album from 1976—except that is not the correct answer.
When looking up just about anything about popular music and pop records (and this includes record sales and awards), the majority of internet “writers” know little to nothing about the topic when they begin (except whatever they remember from the radio when they were teenagers) and know even less about how to research the topic.
What was the first album to receive a platinum record award? Well, it wasn’t the Eagles.
Most of them do their “research” by apparently referring almost exclusively to Wikipedia—which is an absurdly untrustworthy source for facts about pop music—or to other websites that refer to Wikipedia as an expert source. Another site that is filled with confusing “data” is the RIAA website.
So, back to the question, “What was the first album to receive a platinum record award?” The first I heard of a “platinum record award” was probably in 1969 or 1970 and involved two artists on Atlantic Records’ subsidiary imprint Atco Records:
• Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (Atco SD-33-250)
• Cream’s Wheels Of Fire (Atco SD-2-700).
I was an avid reader of pop/rock magazines such as Crawdaddy and Rolling Stone and I also paged through Billboard, Cash Box, Record World, and Variety each week. It is probably safe to assume that one or more of these mentioned the platinum records.
The original title of this article was “What Was The First Platinum Record Album?” A subsequent article .
First platinum record album
One of the best websites for information on gold and platinum record awards is Honor Music Awards. There, Jim Greenwood states that the first physical platinum record award was for the Iron Butterfly album (minor editorial changes were made):
“IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA was given the distinction of being the first album to be awarded platinum status. On this first platinum award (from late 1969 or 1970), the presentation plate says to commemorate the sale of 2,000,000 dollars worth [of albums sold]. not the 1,000,000 copies that became the requirement for RIAA platinum when they were first officially recognized in 1976.
The plate on the plaque reads:
This Platinum Record Is Presented to
to Commemorate the Sale of
2,000,000 Dollars Worth of
the Atco Records
Long Playing Record Album
Given a list price of $4.99 for a stereo LP at the time, that would indicate sales of 1,333,000 LPs. (This album does not appear to have been released commercially in mono so I did not figure any of them into the amount.)
Wheels Of Fire
Albums with two records of new material were not common in pop music. In rock music, there had only been a few through 1968, notably Bob Dylan’s BLONDE ON BLONDE and the Mothers Of Invention’s FREAK OUT, both from 1966. So Cream’s WHEELS OF FIRE reaching #1 on the Billboard best-selling LPs chart was a big deal, as was its selling about half a million copies in the US out the door.
WHEELS OF FIRE is generally recognized as the first double-album to reach platinum status. As “platinum” status in the ’60s referred exclusively to dollars earned and not copies/units sold, it would have had to sell approximately 666,000 units with a suggested lit price of $9.98 to qualify for the $2,000,000 level.
As the original album came with deluxe packaging—the jacket was covered in a thin silver foil, which was both amazing and outrageous at the time (and a whole lot of fun to buy and take home and pull out of the shrinkwrap)—it may have also had a corresponding deluxe price ($10.98? $12.98?). If so, then it would have had to sell a slightly lower amount to meet the $2,000,000 mark.
Many albums were “platinum”
Many albums had sold $2,000,000 wholesale in the US before 1968. These included:
• several popular movie soundtracks
• several Elvis albums
• most of Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass’ albums
• most of the Beatles albums
• the first four albums by the Monkees
Other albums that sold in humongous amounts include novelty records (Vaughn Meader’s comedy album about President John Kennedy, THE FIRST FAMILY, is supposed to have sold millions) and commemorative albums (several tribute albums released in the wake of the assassination of President Kennedy were also sold countless copies).
And, if you lived through the ’60s, it seemed like Bill Cosby’s albums could be found in every house in the country!
There were several prominent massive-sellers before the Iron Butterfly album, such as MEET THE BEATLES. Released in January 1964, this album approached 5,000,000 sales (approximately $7,000,000) by the end of 1965, a mind-blowing figure for a pop album at the time.
Released in April 1965, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass’ WHIPPED CREAM & OTHER DELIGHTS supposedly sold more than 4,000,000 copies (approximately $6,000,000) within a year of its release. (Although it is currently listed by the RIAA with a mere “0.5 million” sales because the owners of A&M Records never pursued further certification.)
Both THE MONKEES (1966) and MORE OF THE MONKEES (1967) sold about 5,000,000 copies each (approximately $7,000,000) within a year of release.
All of these albums sold more than IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA.
None of them received platinum record awards before IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA.
Proprietary vs non-proprietary
It appears that Atlantic/Atco Records invented the term “platinum record” in 1969-1970. It’s possible that the term had been used among record companies prior to this but I could not find any evidence for that. The terms gold record and platinum record are generic and anyone can use them. They are often referred to as in-house awards as they are manufactured through the devices of the record company.
But the terms RIAA Gold Record and RIAA Platinum Recod are proprietary, hence the registration marks (®) you often find accompanying them. That said, IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA was certified by the RIAA for a Gold Record Award on December 3, 1968. This was updated to a 4xPlatinum Record Award on January 26, 1993. There have not been any further certifications of this album.
WHEELS OF FIRE was certified by the RIAA for a proprietary Gold Record Award on July 22, 1968. Despite all the brouhaha about its status as the first platinum-selling double-album, it has not been certified by the RIAA for a Platinum Record Award. I could not even find any documentation that Atlantic/Atco had a platinum record award made for this album!
This does not stop countless writers from making unverifiable statements. For example, one Cream-based website apparently misunderstood the terminology and mixed up a few words: instead of claiming that WHEELS OF FIRE was the first platinum double LP, the writer said that it was “the first double platinum LP.”
What was the first platinum record album?
When published a few weeks ago, the original title of this article was “What Was The First Platinum Record Album?” I changed the title to “Was The First Platinum Record Awarded In 1969?” so that it would complement another article that I just published: “Was The First Platinum Record Awarded In 1968?”
FEATURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page was cropped from the front cover of Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. The photograph by shows the band on stage with a fabulous light show as a backdrop. I modified the image from the album cover by blacking out “Stereo” in the upper left corner and the Atco logo in the lower left.
Finally, thanks to Frank Daniels and Daniel (a reader and regular commenter whose last name I do not know) for their research efforts in research and to Bryan Bradley for proofing the final draft of this article.
PS: I loved this album’s cover at first sight in mid-1968 and remain in love with it sixty years later.
Mystically liberal Virgo enjoys long walks alone in the city at night in the rain with an umbrella and a flask of 10-year-old Laphroaig who strives to live by the maxim, “It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble; it’s what you know that just ain’t so.
I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a college dropout (twice!). Occupationally, I have been a bartender, jewelry engraver, bouncer, landscape artist, and FEMA crew chief following the Great Flood of ’72 (and that was a job that I should never, ever have left).
I am also the final author of the original O’Sullivan Woodside price guides for record collectors and the original author of the Goldmine price guides for record collectors. As such, I was often referred to as the Price Guide Guru, and—as everyone should know—it behooves one to heed the words of a guru. (Unless, of course, you’re the Beatles.)